40 English Spelling Rules - The Other Rules
OTHER ENGLISH SPELLING RULES
Hello, and welcome to the sixth mini-lesson on The 40 Rules of English, where we break down every beginner rule you need to know in English and ESL. This category, much like English itself, isn’t so well-defined nor is it easy to compartmentalize. We took all the vital rules we wanted to keep in our list of 40, and put them into this category. While they aren’t as related as the others are, don’t discount them as useless or esoteric (only applying to very specific topics or situations). That just isn’t the case! These rules are a foundational exercise in some of the most fundamental rules in English.
- The letter “q” is almost always followed by a “u”.
Let’s get started with a rule that has exceptions, but these exceptions are rare to say the least. A rule of thumb: if you’re spelling a word that has a q in English, it will almost always be followed by a u. Quack, quake, qualify, quandary, queen, question. Qu, qu, qu, qu qu.
We could only think of four exceptions that you may see in everyday life: burqa (a head-covering worn by some Muslim women), qi (energy in Chinese philosophy), qwerty (the layout of your keyboard), and tranq (a shorthand for the word tranquilizer, which is a sedative). And honestly, these words don’t appear all that often anyway. Half of them come from other languages, and the other two are fabricated words. Still, they are worth mentioning, just in case you do see them and are confused by the lack of u.
- “I” before “e” except after “c”.
We have a love-hate relationship with i before e, except after c. Why? Well, there happen to be a lot of exceptions to this rule. On the other hand, it’s so useful to us because it makes those tricky words easy to spell. So we have to be careful. Note that an exception to this rule is when these combinations make an “A” sound, as in neighbor or weigh.
Our advice is to watch for exceptions in the real world, because they make up a staggering amount of words. So much so that we aren’t able to tell you all the ones this rule doesn’t cover. Science, ancient, protein, seize, theism, heist, leisure, rein, seeing. We aren’t kidding when we say that there are thousands of words that ignore this rule. Why? As we’ve stated before, English borrows a lot from other languages, languages that don’t have such a rule. It also borrows from languages that do adhere to this rule in some form. Annoying, isn’t it? That’s why English is so difficult (but not impossible) to learn! Our advice? Keep reading.
- CAPITAL LETTERS are used at the beginning of names, places, and proper nouns.
HELLO. CAPITAL LETTERS MAKE IT APPEAR AS THOUGH WE ARE SHOUTING. We don’t talk about this a lot in formal writing, but spelling for effect is a handy tool to convince your audience. Capital letters can do just that, and stand as argumentative flair.
Anyway, this rule is much easier compared to the last one. Use a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence, and for important nouns. Any name is an important noun because humans are important. Places, too, are important. Well, most places. Don’t capitalize kitchen, or any other general location. But do capitalize Walker Street, London, and Australia. Proper nouns such as months of the year and days of the week also get capitalized. Quick tip: don’t capitalize seasons.
- Sometimes when writing, words may be shortened. These are known as abbreviations.
No, we don’t mean omg or lol. While those are abbreviations, they’re colloquial (slang), and don’t (we hope) appear in formal essays and articles. This rule is a lot easier to figure out when you have context for the abbreviation. So even if you haven’t seen the abbreviation for pound (lb.), you could probably figure it out if you saw the phrase: “I cooked a 2 lb. piece of chicken.” Despite the letters l and b not appearing in the word pound, you could gather that we must be talking about a form of measurement.
Just as i before e has a lot of examples, we seem to abbreviate a bunch of things in English. The easiest way to tell that something is abbreviated is by the period (.) appearing after letters that wouldn’t normally go together. Often times, abbreviations are literally shortened expressions. For example, vol. (abbreviation for volume) is just half the original word. Other abbreviations, such as lb., need to be memorized.
- Homophones are words that have the same sound but a different meaning and spelling.
Both homophones and homographs are things called homonyms. Why are we teaching you these? Well, it’s to show you that sometimes words look or sound the same, but have entirely different meanings. That way, if you see or hear a word that doesn’t fit your definition, it may mean that the word has another definition entirely!
Homophones sound the same but are completely different words. Say the word pale out loud. Now say the word pail out loud. They are identical in sound, but different in spelling. Pale is an adjective meaning light in color. A pale, which is a noun, is just another word for a bucket. Homophones are just a name for the difference in meaning for words that sound the same.
- A homograph is a word that may have more than one meaning or pronunciation.
Homographs, on the other hand, are words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. They are spelled exactly alike. However, they may be pronounced differently, and also have differing definitions. For instance, the word nail is both a screw and something on the end of your finger. It is also a verb, meaning to hammer something in. Some homographs have more than a few definitions, such as the word ball.
Just because these rules are quite different, doesn’t mean they aren’t important! When you’re a beginner in English, it’s vital to absorb all the information you can on spelling. It will improve your writing and your understanding of English as a whole!
Want to sharpen those skills and prove to yourself you have what it takes to master the first steps of English spelling? We’re proud of you (and we’re here to help)! That means you’re ready for mini-lesson seven: compounds and hyphens. If you aren’t quite ready, that’s OK! Use this lesson as a guide, and keep practicing every day. Practice builds the confidence you need to tackle even the most difficult of concepts. Check out our paths, decks, and other lessons today! See you next time.